Outside the Church there is no salvation – the whole truth

One of the accusations I’ve heard leveled at traditionalists is that we “condemn everyone else to Hell”. Which is obviously an extreme misunderstanding of the Dogma that Outside the Church there is no salvation – or Membership of the Church is necessary for for all men for salvation (De Fide) (Ott Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma – pg 312)

Pius IX: By Faith it is to be firmly held that Outside the Apostolic Roman Church none can achieve salvation. This is the only ark of salvation. He who does not enter into it, will perish in the flood. Nevertheless equally certain it is to be held that those who suffer from invincible ignorance of the true religion, are not for this reason guilty in the eyes of the Lord.


Actual Membership of the Church is via the sacrament of Baptism.

Achieving a state of justification (via perfect act of contrition/charity) is possible and this is called Baptism of Desire

Baptism of Desire implies the desire to seek and accept sacramental Baptism if it could be attained either explicitly or implicitly.

Those who are in this state (Invincible Ignorance & Baptism of Desire) are in a precarious state. “In view of the stress laid upon the necessity of membership of the Church for salvation it is understandable that the possibility of salvation for those outside the Church is mentioned only hesitantly. (Ott pg 313)

Church Teaching: 



Archbishop Richard J. Cushing
Given on August 8, 1949 explaining the true sense of Catholic doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Church.
This important Letter of the Holy Office is introduced by a letter of the Most Reverend Archbishop of Boston.

The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office has examined again the problem of Father Leonard Feeney and St. Benedict Center. Having studied carefully the publications issued by the Center, and having considered all the circumstances of this case, the Sacred Congregation has ordered me to publish, in its entirety, the letter which the same Congregation sent me on the 8th of August, 1949. The Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, has given full approval to this decision. In due obedience, therefore, we publish, in its entirety, the Latin text of the letter as received from the Holy Office with an English translation of the same approved by the Holy See.

Given at Boston, Mass., the 4th day of September, 1952.

Walter J. Furlong, Chancellor

Richard J. Cushing, Archbishop of Boston.


From the Headquarters of the Holy Office, Aug. 8, 1949.

Your Excellency:

This Supreme Sacred Congregation has followed very attentively the rise and the course of the grave controversy stirred up by certain associates of “St. Benedict Center” and “Boston College” in regard to the interpretation of that axiom: “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”

After having examined all the documents that are necessary or useful in this matter, among them information from your Chancery, as well as appeals and reports in which the associates of “St. Benedict Center” explain their opinions and complaints, and also many other documents pertinent to the controversy, officially collected, the same Sacred Congregation is convinced that the unfortunate controversy arose from the fact that the axiom, “outside the Church there is no salvation,” was not correctly understood and weighed, and that the same controversy was rendered more bitter by serious disturbance of discipline arising from the fact that some of the associates of the institutions mentioned above refused reverence and obedience to legitimate authorities.

Accordingly, the Most Eminent and Most Reverend Cardinals of this Supreme Congregation, in a plenary session held on Wednesday, July 27, 1949, decreed, and the august Pontiff in an audience on the following Thursday, July 28, 1949, deigned to give his approval, that the following explanations pertinent to the doctrine, and also that invitations and exhortations relevant to discipline be given:

We are bound by divine and Catholic faith to believe all those things which are contained in the word of God, whether it be Scripture or Tradition, and are proposed by the Church to be believed as divinely revealed, not only through solemn judgment but also through the ordinary and universal teaching office (, n. 1792).

Now, among those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach is contained also that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no salvation outside the Church.

However, this dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Savior gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church.

Now, in the first place, the Church teaches that in this matter there is question of a most strict command of Jesus Christ. For He explicitly enjoined on His apostles to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever He Himself had commanded (Matt. 28: 19-20).

Now, among the commandments of Christ, that one holds not the least place by which we are commanded to be incorporated by baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, and to remain united to Christ and to His Vicar, through whom He Himself in a visible manner governs the Church on earth.

Therefore, no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely established by Christ, nevertheless refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience from the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.

Not only did the Savior command that all nations should enter the Church, but He also decreed the Church to be a means of salvation without which no one can enter the kingdom of eternal glory.

In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man’s final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing. This we see clearly stated in the Sacred Council of Trent, both in reference to the sacrament of regeneration and in reference to the sacrament of penance (, nn. 797, 807).

The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as she is the general help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing.

However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.

These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943,(AAS, Vol. 35, an. 1943, p. 193 ff.). For in this letter the Sovereign Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are actually incorporated into the Church as members, and those who are united to the Church only by desire.

Discussing the members of which the Mystical Body is-composed here on earth, the same august Pontiff says: “Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.”

Toward the end of this same encyclical letter, when most affectionately inviting to unity those who do not belong to the body of the Catholic Church, he mentions those who “are related to the Mystical Body of the Redeemer by a certain unconscious yearning and desire,” and these he by no means excludes from eternal salvation, but on the other hand states that they are in a condition “in which they cannot be sure of their salvation” since “they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church” (AAS, 1. c., p. 243). With these wise words he reproves both those who exclude from eternal salvation all united to the Church only by implicit desire, and those who falsely assert that men can be saved equally well in every religion (cf. Pope Pius IX, Allocution,, in, n. 1641 ff.; also Pope Pius IX in the encyclical letter,, in, n. 1677).

But it must not be thought that any kind of desire of entering the Church suffices that one may be saved. It is necessary that the desire by which one is related to the Church be animated by perfect charity. Nor can an implicit desire produce its effect, unless a person has supernatural faith: “For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Council of Trent declares (Session VI, chap. 8): “Faith is the beginning of man’s salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and attain to the fellowship of His children” (Denzinger, n. 801).

From what has been said it is evident that those things which are proposed in the periodical, fascicle 3, as the genuine teaching of the Catholic Church are far from being such and are very harmful both to those within the Church and those without.

From these declarations which pertain to doctrine, certain conclusions follow which regard discipline and conduct, and which cannot be unknown to those who vigorously defend the necessity by which all are bound’ of belonging to the true Church and of submitting to the authority of the Roman Pontiff and of the Bishops “whom the Holy Ghost has placed . . . to rule the Church” (Acts 20:28).

Hence, one cannot understand how the St. Benedict Center can consistently claim to be a Catholic school and wish to be accounted such, and yet not conform to the prescriptions of canons 1381 and 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, and continue to exist as a source of discord and rebellion against ecclesiastical authority and as a source of the disturbance of many consciences.

Furthermore, it is beyond understanding how a member of a religious Institute, namely Father Feeney, presents himself as a “Defender of the Faith,” and at the same time does not hesitate to attack the catechetical instruction proposed by lawful authorities, and has not even feared to incur grave sanctions threatened by the sacred canons because of his serious violations of his duties as a religious, a priest, and an ordinary member of the Church.

Finally, it is in no wise to be tolerated that certain Catholics shall claim for themselves the right to publish a periodical, for the purpose of spreading theological doctrines, without the permission of competent Church authority, called the “” which is prescribed by the sacred canons.

Therefore, let them who in grave peril are ranged against the Church seriously bear in mind that after “Rome has spoken” they cannot be excused even by reasons of good faith. Certainly, their bond and duty of obedience toward the Church is much graver than that of those who as yet are related to the Church “only by an unconscious desire.” Let them realize that they are children of the Church, lovingly nourished by her with the milk of doctrine and the sacraments, and hence, having heard the clear voice of their Mother, they cannot be excused from culpable ignorance, and therefore to them apply without any restriction that principle: submission to the Catholic Church and to the Sovereign Pontiff is required as necessary for salvation.

In sending this letter, I declare my profound esteem, and remain,

Your Excellency’s most devoted,

F. Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani.

A. Ottaviani, Assessor.

(Private); Holy Office, 8 Aug., 1949.


Mystici Corporis – #103

103. As you know, Venerable Brethren, from the very beginning of Our Pontificate, We have committed to the protection and guidance of heaven those who do not belong to the visible Body of the Catholic Church, solemnly declaring that after the example of the Good Shepherd We desire nothing more ardently than that they may have life and have it more abundantly.[194] Imploring the prayers of the whole Church We wish to repeat this solemn declaration in this Encyclical Letter in which We have proclaimed the praises of the “great and glorious Body of Christ”[195] and from a heart overflowing with love We ask each and every one of them to correspond to the interior movements of grace, and to seek to withdraw from that state in which they cannot be sure of their salvation.[196] For even though by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church. Therefore may they enter into Catholic unity and, joined with Us in the one, organic Body of Jesus Christ, may they together with us run on to the one Head in the Society of glorious love.[197] Persevering in prayer to the Spirit of love and truth, We wait for them with open and outstretched arms to come not to a stranger’s house, but to their own, their father’s home.

Pius XII 1943


Commentary on the Dogma “Outside the Church there is no salvation” 


The doctrine that “Outside the Church there is no salvation” is one that is constantly misinterpreted by those who won’t submit to the Magisterium of the Church. Faith does not depend upon our ability to reason to the truth but on our humility before the Truth presented to us by those to whom Christ entrusted that task. This is why the First Vatican Council taught that it is the task of the Magisterium ALONE to determine and expound the meaning of the Tradition – including “outside the Church no salvation.”

Concerning this doctrine the Pope of Vatican I, Pius IX, spoke on two different occasions. In an allocution (address to an audience) on December 9th, 1854 he said:

We must hold as of the faith, that out of the Apostolic Roman Church there is no salvation; that she is the only ark of safety, and whosoever is not in her perishes in the deluge; we must also, on the other hand, recognize with certainty that those who are invincible in ignorance of the true religion are not guilty for this in the eyes of the Lord. And who would presume to mark out the limits of this ignorance according to the character and diversity of peoples, countries, minds and the rest?

Again, in his encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore of 10 August, 1863 addressed to the Italian bishops, he said:

It is known to us and to you that those who are in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion, but who observe carefully the natural law, and the precepts graven by God upon the hearts of all men, and who being disposed to obey God lead an honest and upright life, may, aided by the light of divine grace, attain to eternal life; for God who sees clearly, searches and knows the heart, the disposition, the thoughts and intentions of each, in His supreme mercy and goodness by no means permits that anyone suffer eternal punishment, who has not of his own free will fallen into sin.

These statements are consistent with the understanding of the Church contained in the documents of Vatican II, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as explaining why the rigorist position of Fr. Feeney (that all must be actual members of the Catholic Church to be saved) has been condemned by the Magisterium. It is ironic that precisely those who know their obligation to remain united to the Magisterium, and thus on whom this doctrine is morally binding, keep themselves from union with the Roman See on this point.

Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL


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8 comments on “Outside the Church there is no salvation – the whole truth

  1. Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus – Wouldn’t this be better understood if translated as –

    “Without the Church there is no Salvation”

    Just a thought!

  2. tradical on said:

    I would not be surprised if they didn’t have to recant as it is only (I believe) proxima at this time.

    What parts of the letter to Archbishop Cushing would they reject?

  3. tradical, I couldn’t claim to speak for Feeneyites, but don’t you find the following sentence from the letter rather disconcerting?:

    “In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man’s final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing.”

    It is particularly the words “but only by divine institution” which make my skin crawl – ONLY!!! At least these men have the temerity to admit that it was by divine institution that baptism was commanded by Our Lord, but if they can relegate the Word of God to some subserviant clause by their use of the word “only”, with what authority should their very mortal words be endowed?

    The other thing I don’t like about the letter is that they quote both Pius IX and Pius XII, but they seem to read far more into the quotes than what the Popes actually wrote. The Popes wrote in perfect accord with Catholic doctrine (obviously) but they seem to stretch the envelope further than the Pontiffs intended. This process of stretching the truth – so beloved of the modernists – is what gave us the ambiguous doctrines of Vatican II, and the downright heresies which have proliferated since the Council.

    I have just today been reading an address by bishop Kurt Koch in which he describes Jews and Christians as forming “the one people of God”. This is how badly the dogma has been corrupted once the pick-axes of liberalism started picking away at it.

    For the record I accept belief in BOB and BOD (at least for catechumens) based on the antiquity of the beliefs, but I really struggle with the concept of somebody “implicitly desiring” baptism. Have you ever met anybody who implicitly desires baptism? How do you define an implicit desire for baptism? Is it somebody who just thinks “I’d like to go to heaven.”?

    • tradical on said:


      My understanding of ‘implicit’ desire is that if the person in question meets the criteria setout, if presented with the Faith, they would desire baptism.

      Effectively, baptism of desire (in voto) is the ability of a person to make a perfect act of contrition with the bare minimum of belief required for the Faith. I believe this is down to two elements: That there is a God and that he will reward the good and punish the evil.

      It should also be noted that Pope Pius XII was involved in the writing of the letter to Archbishop Cushing and provided his direct approval of the contents. If I remember correctly although it was published much later, it was actually written about the time that Mystici Corporis was issued.

      Because of this I remember reading that this is considered to have a link to that encyclical since it expounds upon the dogma.

      • tradical on said:

        Gotta love those ambiguous passages.

        Here’s the whole context for our readers:

        Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. Lumen Gentium 16.

        I don’t see the word ‘atheist’ anywhere in this passage. I also checked the whole document and the word does not appear anywhere in it.

        The passage that JA has warped is “deny the helps necessary for salvation “ . God will provide the grace for them to attain the bare minimum elements of Faith etc . It doesn`t mean that they can persist in their unbelief and attain a state of grace. There are no atheists in Heaven.

        He has also warped the doctrine on invincible ignorance. Invincible ignorance doesn`t mean no one showed the atheist what he personally considered `convincing arguments`, it means that it isn`t his fault for his ignorance.

        If someone outlined the basic reasons for belief found in an apologetics manual to this atheist, then his or her theoretical state of invincible ignorance is undermined. Ultimately, only God knows where the line of culpability lies due to the graces received by the atheist.

        The other thing missed is that invincible ignorance does not confer the state of grace. An atheist in invincible ignorance can still commit a mortal sin. This requires a perfect act of contrition. Hence the reference to a perfect act of charity.

        I`m glad to see that J.Akin`s reliability and authority in expounding Church teaching remains as it always was.

  4. tradical on said:

    The issues surrounding the regularizations are not suprising since I don’t believe that the teaching of Pius IX and XII is de Fide.

  5. I didn’t drive home one point. “Regularization” was the term used with St. Ann’s House, but not the others, specifically because no irregularity was found. That is, they were always Catholic.

    The letter of Cdl. Marchetti-Selvaggiani is not de fide, of course. Just imagine if Cdl. Muller as CDF head writes a letter blasting the SSPX. What weight would you give that?

    A de fide teaching from Ven. Pius IX is that no one has ever been justified without having the Catholic Faith (Vatican Council, my paraphrase). It would be kind of contradictory for him to also teach that ignorance could result in justification.

    • tradical on said:

      Quick Note: Those elements within the letter that repeat past doctrine etc will be imbued with a higher degree of authority. So for example that Supernatural Faith is required is de Fide.

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